Dancer with Auburn Hair, A lesson in Perception

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Believe nothing you hear, and only half of what you see. – Mark Twain

Nothing is what it seems.

You can’t judge a book by its cover. – Bo Diddley

People only see what they are prepared to see. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. – Henry David Thoreau

These are all phrases about perception.  Each person perceives the world and their environment in their own unique way.  Siblings growing up together will have different perceptions of their upbringing.  People doing a Life Drawing class will each have a different perspective on what they see and how they interpret it onto the paper.

Over the weekend at one of the Milongas, my friend told me that he had seen a painting on Flickr of the two of us dancing.  It turns out that someone had taken a photograph of us at Carole Edrich’s Fire and Ice exhibition that took place on the 6th of November 2008, and took the liberty to create a work of art.  The reason I say liberty is that the painting shows me with auburn hair.  I haven’t been a redhead for years.  My hair is brown going to natural.  It was artistic license none the less.

The painting is called, ‘Dancer with Auburn Hair’.  Apart from the hair colour, my dance partner and I are very recognisable, even though the view is of my back.  It was a surreal moment seeing myself like that in a painting.  I don’t have many photos of myself dancing, nor do I have many opportunities to see what I look like when I am dancing, as mercifully there are not many, if any, mirrors at the Milongas.

After admiring the image for awhile, I scrolled down the page to look at the comments.  At first I fell to pieces with laughter.  What people were thinking!  The comments had nothing to do with reality, if only they knew.  I have taken the ‘liberty’ to post some of them below.

One of the most romantic pictures ever. I can hear the music, feel the soft swaying motion of the dancers, feel their love for one another, their passion and their deep familiarity–I feel I’m looking at a couple who’ve been together a long time and truly know the ins and outs of each other, who have adapted, accepted, sparred, forgiven, known happinesses and sadnesses, and still manage to feel the flow of love of the moment, capable of remembering old passion. I like the blurry effect of this…it adds to their moment of romance, and of course her warm red hair and his bald dome are lovely; really an exquisite piece….

entrancingly romantic && intimate, the inseparable chemistry the lovers have is emblematized so well by her free, fiery hair, love love love it!
hope all is beautiful – xoxo!…

I like my friend very much, but he and I are just friends and we enjoy dancing with each other.  We move well together because we really feel the music and listen to each other on the dance floor.  Well, that is my perception.  If others think there may be more to it, then we must be doing something right.  These people were commenting on something they saw and how it made them feel.

I re-read the comments and I realised something really important.  The artist saw something in our dance, a feeling, which compelled him to compose his piece and that in turn evoked strong feelings in others – a chain reaction.  The more I thought about it the more I realised that I needed to change my perception about what I had read.  Although my friend and I are not lovers, we have loved others.  We have known passion, happiness and sadness.  There must have been a part of us that brought all of this feeling from our lives to the surface with the music in that moment.  We both love the music and the music makes us feel things that we can’t always explain.

I got to thinking about what I notice or look for when I am watching other dancers on the dance floor.  Apart from shoes, dancing skills and musicality, I always ‘look’ for the feeling between the partners.  That is what helps me to decide to accept a dance.  I am really sensitive to vibes.  I have seen very good technical dancers that don’t exude any feeling and their lack of emotion leaves me cold.  Why would I want to say ‘yes’ to that?  Where would the joy be?  I want to experience more.  I need to share with a sympathetic person.  I have moved beyond ‘dancing just for the sake of it’.  I need to dance with those on my wavelength or not at all.

I wrote to the artist to explain who I was and about my dance partner.  I wanted to know more and asked the artist what it was that moved him.  What did he see?  What was it about me, about the dance?  What am I projecting when I am dancing?  I don’t think about what is going on around me when I am dancing as I usually have my eyes closed, I’m feeling the music, and paying attention to my partner – at least most of the time.  I was really curious.

The e-mails flew back and forth and I now have an answer, or at least I understand the feeling.  It is reassuring knowing that I am not the only one that sometimes has difficulty expressing deep emotions in print.  Trying to put emotions into words can be a futile exercise and barely does them any justice, especially when they are felt so strongly.  That is why certain people use imagery to express themselves, or dance, etc.

The credit must be given to the music, as without the music there would have been no dance.  The dancers expressed themselves to the music.  The artist saw and felt something from the dance, and interpreted that into a piece of art.  In turn, others have been drawn to the painting and felt free to express how it made them feel.  There is no right or wrong about it, it is just a matter of perception.

In Tango, it is always about the music.  At least it is for me.

11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Pat McDonald
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 12:05:18

    This is so thrilling.

    When I painted this piece I felt a mixture of technicality and emotion.

    What did I see and how should I express it?

    I was at Carole’s “Fire ands Ice” exhibition and I became aware of this wonderful dancer. Her movement was so beautiful. I must confess I stared. She seemed to dance within a golden orb of movement.

    I was entranced. Everyone was. She was the centre of everyone’s attention. I began to wonder if I was transgressing the rules of acceptable behaviour in staring so openly. I took a photograph and knew I would paint her.

    How to convey that “golden orb”? She had the most wonderful hair. Lustrous and (to my eye) auburn. I used the device of intensifying the tones to make the hair really vivid. It seemed to suit the mood. It was devised to recreate, as best I could, that golden orb.

    I tried to use subtle tones in her dress to create the magic of her movement. All the colours and brush strokes were designed to draw the eye to the beautiful lady dancer and that moment of magic.

    Once I posted the image I knew I had achieved my objective. People saw the poetry of her movement. They saw her expression of the music as love.

    The comments were tender and romantic. Showing, I think, the inner voice of most of us.

    Oh, and there was a moment of supreme flattery to me. A lot of viewers assumed I was the man! The male dancer is elegant, handsome and sophisticated – exactly the opposite of me! Reality compelled my honesty. I had to confess the man was nothing like me. If only!

    Then an electrifying moment. The lady dancer contacted me. It was Arlene. I was so nervous. What would she think? Would she approve of my “artistic licence” with her hair?

    What I found was a wonderful person – full of eloquent support, fully aware of my gauche uncertainty.

    The Flickr comments associated with this piece always fill me with a exhilarating insight into human nature … people love the “romance”.

    We are all romantics aren’t we.

    Arlene expressed this romance in dance, and for that we should be truly grateful.

  2. Wildcard
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 12:50:21

    I totally agee that the music generates the emotion and the feelings necessary for a good dance, but the music alone that will not create a GREAT dance.

    You also need to marry it with good skills and technique so that your body can interpret and express those feelings well. If you have one without the other you have weakness.

  3. Jack (The Lad)
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 02:31:51

    I think wildcard really means “You also need to marryhim with good skills and technique so that your body can interpret and express those feelings well. If you have one without the other you have weakness.

  4. tang totty
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 22:01:08

    Postman Pat

    Methinks you have been reading too many Valentines cards! (Sorry Arlene!)


  5. Game Cat
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 19:49:59


    I wonder if what you feel is something that only women could experience, or do men too as well?

    Are there too many things on our minds for us men to surrender as completely to the moment? E.g. floorcraft, fitting the steps into the music.

    I certainly have never experienced it at that level, and don’t know if I ever would. I certainly do feel, to re-use a sporting phrase, “in the zone” when having a really good tanda with a really good partner. But a good deal of awareness of what’s happening around us and conscious decision-making still has to go on.

    Perhaps not uncoincidentally, those “in the zone” dances for me have usually happened late in the night, past my normal bedtime, rarely early in the evening.

    Any other thoughts anyone?

  6. Tango totty
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 15:36:34


    It is possible but it depends on your ability and experience! To achieve that tango heaven you have to be experienced enough to be able to dance the steps instinctively so you can free your mind and abandon yourself to the music.

    I know women do not have to navigate but at first they also have to multi task when they are dancing. They have to think about following the lead, the correct technique, listening to the music, posture, what decorations to add, the embrace. Again if you have enough experience and ability you can eventually do this on instinct and you can abandon yourself to the music. But this is a long haul and cannot be achieved overnight.

  7. Mr Walker
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 16:19:45

    Hi Game Cat

    I have experienced this state afew times and for me it only ever happens when i dance with certain women..i do believe this feeling or zone is the same as the womans but in a different way…kind of ying and yang we both make this state..there are other factors too, the music must be right, for me this is the main part then my partner (as important as music but because i’m the leader i must first be inspired by the music before i can even hope to connect with my partner) then the other dancers around us if they are performing fantasy tango around you both you and your partner will be on edge, then me….even though i’m last in this journey i’m not because my connection started with the music….
    I have never asked a partner if they had or experienced this feeling it’s something i felt happened between us…

  8. Voice of Reason
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 16:52:04

    I have experienced this with only a few women. It is unusual when it happens but you definitely recognise that it was special for both of you. I remember the first time this happened.
    I put it down to my partners ability to bring the best out of my dancing and we were definitely in the zone. I found it extremely uplifting spiritually and I remember thinking “Now thats what tango is about”. Unfortunately, I was wrong. It is about the music the people and the desire to improve and develop that keeps you going, between these fleeting moments of joy. In a way I found myself agreeing with all of you.

  9. Apostrophe
    Feb 15, 2009 @ 11:52:55

    Many of the comments here, particularly TT’s, resonate with me. For me, as an ex-raver/clubber type who used to regularly dance non-stop from 11pm to 7am to ‘uplifting house’ and ‘trance-progressive’ (DJs love their niche sub-genres), I was always hoping to find that ‘musical high’.

    The ‘musical high’ represents a state where the music is my lead. It drives and directs the way I move. I am not consciously thinking about which ‘moves’ will look best, which moves will impress; I feel free, liberated and creative, to express myself in physical movement.

    I’m not even remotely artistic, nor can I play any musical instrument (unless the kazoo counts), so this opportunity to enjoy being creative is hugely welcomed.

    Tango complements my notion of the ‘musical high’ perfectly and takes it to the next level up; it provides an environment or framework that allows and enables me to SHARE the experience with another person.

    Ignoring my current skill and experience, every dance I share with a follower, I secretly wonder deep down, if we’ll get a sniff or a hint of that high. I think that this is what fuels my desire to improve, to be able to significantly improve the likelihood that my follower will also have a wonderful dancing experience.

  10. Tango totty
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 01:12:07

    To me these comments sum up my feeling for tango.

    “The objective of Argentine Tango is not dance for the awe and appreciation of others. The objective is to achieve that connection to whomever you dance with. There will come a time when “Magic” happens––an unbelievably beautiful melding of intent and movement between two people that is marvelously intimate.

    This is achieved when all of the elements of AT come together (e.g. walks, hesitations, musicality, line of dance, etc.) without you ever having to think about it. It just happens. This is achieved over time via dedication to the dance.

    The technical stuff

    • Make sure your teacher is an Argentine Tango specialist. Someone who REALLY dances and understands the magic of Argentine Tango. Not just someone who knows steps.

    • Master the basics (e.g walks, basic fundamental AT parameters of movement, rules, and etiquette)

    • Learn how to string the basics together in musical interpretation.

    • Don’t be obsessed with steps. Step memorizers make the worse AT dancers.

    • Learn to lead. The art of making your partner do something in synch with you without saying anything. It is the basis of AT

    • Be familiar with authentic traditional tango music (NOT ballroom adaptations). I’m talking about the old scratchy stuff. You’ll understand eventually.

    • Be patient. AT requires time to learn. It requires time to be good at. I have lost count of the classmates I have had who wanted to learn everything AT fast. They’re all gone from the milongas.

    • Treat AT as a brand new dance learning experience. Keep an open mind, don’t compare it to what you know now as this will be a brand new journey.

    • Be humble. There’s always someone who’s better than you

    Start with that for now.”
    Posted by AmpsterTango (a.k.a. “Orange Shirt Guy”) at 21:30 0 comments
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  11. Jessica
    Mar 09, 2009 @ 19:37:24

    Very thought provoking… makes me think that tango is a dance for lovers – even though the person you’re dancing with is mostly a stranger or a friend, the person you are when you’re dancing is somehow close to the way you are as a lover. And when the magic happens the strength and intimacy of the connection is like being in love. Perhaps it’s that feeling of being in harmony without speaking….

    And I’m starting to recognise that strange disorientation of the moment when you release each other and smile at the end of a magical tanda… as if you’ve shared something as intimate as sex… you may know nothing about that person’s life, not even their name, and yet you have connected on a very special level.

    And then you separate and go your separate ways… and that’s all part of it too.

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